While most people think of Europe when the art of ballet comes up, there are many companies all over the world that are worthy of praise for the dances they produce. One continent that we want to look at is Asia, which is an unknown landscape for some of us Westernized individuals.
There is no doubt that ballet is an art that began in the West and colonization helped it spread globally. Today there are numerous opera houses and ballet companies in Asia and they produce European compositions as well as works by their own talented artistic directors.
Here are some great groups who are sure to entertain if ever making your way through Asia.
1. Singapore Dance Theatre
This ballet company, and theater was formed less than thirty years ago in 1988. The founding members are Anthony Then and Goh Soo Khim. Their debut performance was at the Singapore Festival of the Arts that same year.
In the very beginning, this troupe only had seven ballet dancers who rehearsed in a humble studio that was on the second floor of an old colonial bungalow. At the time, another dance ensemble called the Singapore Ballet Academy, would also utilize the space and our seven dancers had to work around the Academy dancer’s schedules.
The floors were so bad sometimes they would give way right under the dancer’s feet. When it rained, buckets were kept on the floor to collect the drippings from the ceiling.
Three years later the Singapore Dance Theater performers began to use the Fort Canning Centre in Fort Canning Park. A building was finally erected for the troupe themselves and it now sits on Victoria Street. The new theater is equipped with four
Their list of works goes from classical ballets and moves into the more contemporary works available for dance. The company staged Giselle in the Victoria Theatre in 2010 and began their 2011 season with a version of Romeo and Juliet by Choo San Goh.
In 2015 alone the Singapore Dance Theatre put on performances of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake on top of ten pieces they pulled out of their repertoire and new compositions form Kinsun Chan, Gigi Gianti, Max Chen, and Francois Klaus.
2. Israel Ballet
Founded in 1967 by Berta Yampolsky and Hilel Merkman in 1967, this Asian ballet company focuses on classical ballet and neoclassical ballet. The first production of the Israel Ballet Company was performed on January 25 in the city of Holon. Still, the Classical Ballet Center, where the company calls home, is in Tel Aviv. It is a top Israeli school and an example of ballet education.
In 1975 George Balanchine gave the Israel Ballet Company all rights to perform his piece Serenade. Six years later in 1981 Balanchine gave the company all rights to perform any of his works for free.
The company didn’t hesitate and the Balanchine works in their repertoire include Symphony in C, Square Dance, La Valse, Concerto Barocco, and The Four Temperaments. Other works in the repertoire of the Israel Ballet Company are Onegin, Giselle, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella.
Artistic Director has not only composed her own original works for the ballet to perform, she has also choreographed new dances for The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
One the newest pieces in the company’s list is a contemporary play titled Hikarizatto by Itzik Galili.
The Israel Ballet Company gives performances all over the world and is the only ballet company in Israel that is on this level. Their home base is the Israel Ballet Center and is furnished with two hundred and fifty seats.
3. Armenian National Opera and Ballet Theater
Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, and largest metropolitan area, is home to this Asian country’s only ballet company. The Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet after Alexander Spendiaryan, as it is also called, opened on January 20, 1933. The performance for the evening was Alexander Spendiaryan’s Almast, which is Armenian for “diamond.”
With the new theater, this inspired the creation of original Armenian ballets. The first national ballet was composed by Soviet-Armenian Aram Khachaturian. The title of this ballet is Happiness.
Khachaturian didn’t wait long to compose his next original piece Gayane, which has been staged on every corner of the globe. Gayane was based on Khachaturian’s Happiness. The story surrounds a young woman with the same name. The themes of love, treachery, and relationships are prevalent.
This company has held productions of ballets written by Armenian, Russian, and Western European writers.
4. Genecela Dance Center
This dance school has been teaching the talented of Indonesia since January of 1996. The founding teacher is Yasinta R. Suryani, and the initial vision for the school is to exemplify the ideals of the school when one is a child. From there they will move on to teach there.
Suryani studied ballet for more than twenty years with Mrs. Farida Oetoyo, who is one of Jakarta’s premiere ballet teachers. This training plus the extensive traveling to dance in Hong Kong, Japan, and Austria inspired the opening of Genecela Dance Center.
Mostly, Suryani wanted to create a space where the talented youth of Indonesia could be nurtured. They needed to be taught the correct ways of dancing ballet so that the youngsters could grow to become professional ballet dancers that would bring honor to Indonesia.
The school has been successful and has added the genres of jazz, hip hop, and tap to their original curriculum of classical ballet.
5. Korea National Ballet Company
Located in South Korea, this Asian ballet company opened in 1962 in the capital city of Seoul. Its original name was the National Ballet Company and one of its associates was the National Theater of Korea, that is until 1999. This is when the company split off and took over their own facility, Seoul Arts Center in 2000
There are sixty-five spots for ballet dancers with this company and each are selected yearly through open auditions. This company boasts South Korea’s best dancers and varied collection of works.
Kim Joo-won, a prima ballerina with the company, has won the Benois de la danse prize in 2006. The next year she rocked the Asian ballet world when she posed topless for a Korean fashion magazine.
Notable performances by the Korea National Ballet are Musagéte by Boris Eifman, Requiem or Mass for the Dead, Bravo Figaro, Spartacus, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Raymonda, Cindarella, Do’ve La Luna, Carmen, and Michel Fokine’s Chunhyang L’Épreuve d’Amour.
In 1997 the company began Ballet with Commentary, which was the creative endeavor of Artistic Director Tae-ji Choi. Today, the program has extended out to Visiting Ballet with Commentary. They focus on bringing the art of ballet to those who would never get to experience it otherwise. They travel to perform in small villages and army bases.
Their first full-length Ballet with Commentary was given in 2010. The work was Coppélia, a comic ballet that premiered in 1870 at the Théatre Impérial l’Opera in Paris. Today’s Artistic Director is Kang Sue-jin.
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